As CNN prepares to hold another town hall Wednesday in the wake of a shocking bout of gun violence, former National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch said she hopes it learns from last year's but she's not optimistic.
For the second straight year, CNN will televise a gun event in the aftermath of gun violence in the United States. It comes less than week after a pair of unrelated shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left 31 dead, and it relit a fierce debate over gun rights.
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Hosted by liberal primetime host Chris Cuomo, Wednesday's event is entitled "America Under Assault: The Gun Crisis," and the topics discussed will be "gun violence in America; white nationalism and the rise in hate crimes; and whether or not the President and Congress will take any action to make America safer."
"I hope they learned from their last attempt and are doing this in the interest of good-faith discussion, but I’m not optimistic," Loesch told the Free Beacon. "After their last town hall on guns, where I was called a horrible mother and a murderer, the network allowed guests’ accusations against the character of law-abiding gun owners to continue unchallenged."
Loesch was one of the participants in an emotional event on CNN last February called "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action," where she was repeatedly jeered by the crowd as she jockeyed with then-Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (D.) and took blistering questions about gun rights.
She previously criticized the town hall as set up like a "WWE event," and she ripped CNN's producers for their handling of the sensitive matter. She said she needed a security detail to leave the arena.
CNN won the Walter Cronkite award for best "National Network News Program," receiving praise for how it helped "advance the national conversation on gun control and violence."
Moderated by Jake Tapper, it was held exactly one week after a gunman killed 17 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Gun control advocates Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.) and Israel attended the event, as did gun rights supporters Loesch and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). President Donald Trump and then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R.) declined invitations to appear.
The event was highly charged from the outset, with parents and classmates of the victims asking pointed questions. One student, addressing Nelson, said she wanted to ask Loesch if "the blood of my classmates and my teachers" was "worth your blood money." Another student, Cameron Kasky, told Rubio he reminded him of the Parkland killer. Another, Emma Gonzalez, questioned Loesch's fitness as a mother.
Israel encouraged students to vote for candidates who supported gun control measures, and he clashed repeatedly with Loesch over her pro-gun stance. Loesch was heckled as a in various chants, and she was jeered when she told the story of a rape survivor who wished she had been armed. Rubio was repeatedly booed for his responses, including when he said he would continue to accept NRA donations and wouldn't support banning every semi-automatic rifle in the United States.
Nevertheless, Loesch said she didn't regret participating.
"I would not have skipped last year … I will always go in good faith to where the discussion is and needs to be," she said. "We all value precious lives and if we value life as much as we say we do then we need to show it the respect it deserves and come from a position of love on this subject when discussing it with others. I hope CNN chooses to encourage this."
The aftermath of the event was instructive.
One day after Israel's triumphant speechifying at the town hall, he was answering questions about his deputy's failure to enter the building as the shooting was ongoing. That Sunday, Tapper grilled him about his department's numerous failures before and during the shooting. He expressed skepticism when Israel claimed he had provided "amazing" leadership for the county.
Two months later, Israel received a vote of "no confidence" from the deputy's union, and new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.) fired him shortly after taking office in January.
Kasky, the student who likened Rubio to his school's attacker, later left the March For Our Lives movement and expressed regret over his questioning, saying he was only trying to "embarrass" Rubio.
Nelson is out of the U.S. Senate, ousted by Scott in a tight race last November. Student activist David Hogg said last year of Scott's hopes of winning the U.S. Senate: "We're not going to let that f—ing happen."
Loesch has had her share of run-ins with CNN. She expressed frustration with host Alisyn Camerota last year after the latter allowed Hogg to call the NRA "child murderers" unchallenged. Camerota denied it, but Loesch's charge was correct.
She also drew criticism last year for saying many legacy media members "love mass shootings" because of the ratings they generate.
Rubio didn't return a request for comment, and Tapper declined to go on the record.